600 MW Plant Detrimental to People and Wildlife
Challenging development of the SWEPCO Turk coal-fired plant
One of Arkansas’s most Important Bird Areas, the Little River Bottoms in Hempstead County, is threatened by the construction of a coal-burning power plant. An 18,000 acre tract of contiguous, relatively undisturbed bottomland hardwood forest, the Little River Bottoms IBA is one of the most biologically diverse ecologically sensitive areas in Arkansas. Southwestern Electric Power Company (SWEPCO) is building a 600-megawatt coal-fired power plant in close proximity to the bottoms. Besides being enormously expensive for SWEPCO customers, the plant will produce 6 million tons of carbon dioxide and emit sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, and mercury – all of which threaten the health of both birds and humans.
In June 2009, the Arkansas Court of Appeals ruled in a unanimous decision that the Arkansas Public Service Commission (APSC) incorrectly issued a permit (Certificate of Environmental Compatibility and Public Need, or CECPN) to SWEPCO to construct the John W. Turk Jr. coal-fired power plant. This decision upholds Audubon's belief that the coal plant is the wrong choice for Arkansas. SWEPCO appealed the appeals court decsion to the Arkansas Supreme Court.
In February 2010, Audubon, Sierra Club, and Hempstead County Hunting Club filed a suit in the U.S. District Court - Western District, challenging the water permit issued to SWEPCO by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The three organizations argued that the Corps did not adequately consider the Turk plant's culmulative environmental impacts when it issued a permit to SWEPCO to fill wetlands and remove water from the Little River.
In May 2010, the Arkansas Supreme Court unanimously confirmed the Appeals Court decision and voided SWEPCO's CECPN to construct the Turk plant.
In June 2010, SWEPCO announced that the company will continue to construct the Turk plant, but it would instead sell electricity generated in wholesale markets. Arkansas law provides two options for the construction of new generating facilities. One is for a regulated utility to serve its retail customers and seek cost recovery through APSC-approved rates. The second option is selling power in wholesale markets, which does not require a CECPN.
In July 2010, Audubon and Sierra Club filed a motion in the U.S. District Court - Eastern District asking for a temporary restraining order to halt construction of the Turk plant.
In October 2010, Judge Bill Wilson issued a preliminary injunction on construction work at the Turk plant site that is related to the Corps of Engineers-issued water permit. Judge Wilson's order stated that SWEPCO cannot dredge, fill, or build an intake structure or work on power lines crossing rivers. SWEPCO appealed the order to the 8th Circuit Court in St. Louis.
In November 2010, three judges with the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals issued a one-sentence order reversing Judge Wilson's ruling that granted a preliminary injunction on construction work at the Turk plant. Audubon, Sierra Club, and Hempstead County Hunting Club appealed the order to the full court.
In December 2010, Judge Bill Wilson recused from the case challenging SWEPCO's water permit. Frustrated that the 8th Circurt Court gave no guidance as to why it reversed his decision, Wilson wrote in his letter of recusal that the Turk plant "will apparently be completed well before the Eighth Circuit considers the case on the merits. In other words, the harm I foresee will have been done, irrevocably.”
On December 20, 2010, the 8th Circuit Court reversed its decision and ordered SWEPCO to stop working on the wetlands near the Turk plant site.
On July 14, 2011, a three-judge panel of the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals sided with Audubon, Sierra Club, and Hempstead County Hunting Club, upholding the December 2010 decision that halted construction on eight acres of wetlands and the water intake for the Turk plant.
On July, 26, 2011, the Hempstead County Hunting Club and area residents signed a confidential settlement agreement with SWEPCO, ceasing all legal challenges to the plant. SWEPCO, in turn, agreed to not construct a second-unit at the Turk plant site.
Statement from Ellen Fennell, Executive Director, Audubon Arkansas Regarding Settlement Reached between SWEPCO and Hempstead County Hunting Club
“The Hempstead County Hunt Club has different and probably more local goals and priorities than those of Audubon Arkansas and Sierra Club; our issues are the increase in carbon emissions and the harmful pollutants that will be added to our air, water and land by the operation of this plant. Audubon and Sierra Club will fight on. From the recent rulings of the 8th Circuit Court, it is clear that we have a good case and the law on our side. We anticipate more victories in the future.”
SWEPCO continues construction work at the rest of the site, investing billions in a project that may not come to fruition. We will keep a close eye on the Turk plant to make sure that the health and environment of Arkansas are protected.
The REAL Cost of SWEPCO's Coal Plant
In the Spring of 2009 Audubon Arkansas released an economic study on the cost of the new SWEPCO coal-fired plant in Hempstead County. The study supports the views of the entire environmental community that coal is not worth the cost.
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